How to Set and Simplify Business Strategy

stand out strategy

Making Big Decisions Better

All organizations are faced with decisions. What to focus on, what to invest in, how to get to there from here are all common questions when approaching strategy.

I’ve read many books on strategy. There are many that are theoretical. I enjoy them and think about the implications. But there are a few that are actionable. As a CEO, I can use aspects of them immediately. That’s what I found when I read Tim Lewko’s new book, Making Big Decisions Better: How to Set and Simplify Business Strategy. Tim Lewko is the CEO of Thinking Dimensions Group, and his book goes right to the core of setting strategy that you can implement immediately.

I followed up with him to discuss his new book and his strategic work.

 

“Strategy is decision-making.” –Tim Lewko

 

Develop a Common Definition of Strategy

Why is it problematic that most of us don’t share a common definition of “strategy”?

Not having a common definition of strategy creates all the problems CEOs, executives, managers and people who want to make their mark are trying to avoid in the critical areas of:

Purpose

Growth

Profit

 

What are some of the common misconceptions about strategy?

The list could be quite long but I will share the top three that trip up firms in setting a quality strategy—and that are easy to fix if the CEO and leadership chooses to. They are:

  • EUREKA – It’s a magical idea that just comes to you
  • SINGULAR – One person holds the key to the great idea
  • BYPASS SWEAT EQUITY – Outsiders can tell you the answer and it should work

 

“Cause is king for sustaining results.” –Tim Lewko

 

Be Wary of Outsourcing Strategy

Why is it often problematic to “outsource strategy” work?making big decisions better book jacket

There are many large successful firms that come and provide the “answer” that shows up as a long set of PowerPoint slides – and this prescriptive approach is the choice for many CEOs.  However, the approach which I practice is process based – where we bring a proven strategy system that “forces tough tradeoffs” and leaves them in a better place because they created the strategy and understand how to modify the choices as events fold.  This process approach helps to avoid the problems associated with outsourcing strategy including:

  • DEFAULT on sweat equity – missing out on working through, understanding and deciding the key things that matter from EXTERNAL and INTERNAL standpoints
  • TOLD WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW – in my experience, clients already know 85% of what’s holding the business back (outsiders may give you 60%) so why pay for what is already known?
  • DELAY or DESTROY BUY-IN – if you outsource strategy, you have already short-changed your ability to implement the strategy – because you have side-stepped the most important people – your executive team and workforce who need to intimately understand the why behind the PRODUCT, MARKET and CAPABILITY choices that are being made. Sure, a great CEO communication or town hall helps to sell the outsourced strategy, but deep down those closest to the issues feel side-stepped – and it takes an awful lot of time to get them to buy in to something that is not theirs.

 

“Unwarranted complications are killing strategy in organizations.” –Tim Lewko

 

Have a Visible Process for Strategy

Is a Talent Assessment Missing From Your Strategy?

This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

 

Does your organization possess the skills necessary to successfully implement your strategic plan?

 

Strategic Planning Is Not Enough

Organizations invest a lot of time, talent and money in a strategic planning process. They carefully consider market segments, opportunities, trends and competition. Then they develop strategic initiatives and projects. They examine assets, products, pricing, costs, headcount, revenue projections and develop detailed 3 -5 year projections. Sometimes shareholder value and market value models are created.

 

“One often-overlooked aspect of a talent assessment is leadership.” –Bruce Rhoades

 

I have spent considerable time with organizations on strategy, planning and process as strategy officer, as interim CEO for several companies and as a consultant. I am surprised how often the entire process misses a key element of strategy:  a strategic talent assessment.

If the organization does not actually possess the key skills to execute the strategy, what skills are needed and how can they be obtained? No matter what process is used for strategy development, a strategic talent assessment is needed before “dropping the flag” on execution.

 

“A strategic talent assessment examines the skills needed to execute.” –Bruce Rhoades

 

What is a Talent Assessment?

Simply stated, a strategic talent assessment examines the organizational skills needed to execute the strategy. It should include:

  • Necessary skills to assess the market needs, attractiveness, competition and size
  • The know-how to define, plan and price the product
  • Type of talent to actually develop the product
  • Competence needed to market, sell and deliver the product
  • Skills to provide customer readiness and adoption
  • Expertise needed to provide service to customers for products
  • Leadership talent to actually execute and deliver the strategic initiative
  • Certain cultural elements of the organization: decisiveness, accountability, delegation, results, etc.

 

“If the necessary talent is not present, the strategy is flawed.” –Bruce Rhoades

 

Performing a Talent Assessment

Ideally, the assessment should be performed when key strategic initiatives are identified. It is especially important to assure that the talent is available to assess the market and opportunity at the next level of detail before committing major resources.

The assessment should be performed at a sufficient level of detail to enable successful execution. Avoid a tendency to categorize talent at high, abstract levels. A good test for the level of detail is to imagine that you are trying to hire a person with these skills — how would you identify that the person possesses the skills? For example, do not just indicate “technology skills” but specify the exact technology skills. Likewise, do not indicate “sales” but what type of sales skills – consumer, consultative, B2B, etc.

One often-overlooked aspect of a talent assessment is leadership. Even if all the necessary talent resides in the organization, execution will fail if leadership is absent. We have all seen a sports team with an abundance of individual talent but with no leadership to get the talented individuals to perform and deliver as a team.

 

“Even if the necessary talent is present, execution fails without leadership.” –Bruce Rhoades

 

The result of the talent assessment should be a “skills gap” matrix that lists the skills currently resident in the organization and the skills needed to execute the strategy. They can even be ranked critical, important, necessary, etc. The “skills gap” matrix should be used as a guide to acquire the necessary talent.

One gap that often occurs in current strategies is when organizations want to utilize “big data analytics” in products, marketing or sales but actually have no resident skills in analytics, statistics, large database technology or modeling.

Another example is when organizations want to capitalize on “social media” but have scarce skills in the organization that actually understand how to best use social media to reach their goals.

 

“Execution before the proper skills are in place can waste resources and damage credibility.” –Bruce Rhoades 

 

How to Remedy the Strategic Talent Gap

5 Critical Moments to Evaluate Your Strategy

“To see things in a new way, we must rise above the fray.” -Rich Horwath

 

Not too long ago, I featured Rich Horwath, the author of Elevate: The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking here to discuss the common mistakes of strategic planning.  Rich has helped thousands of managers with the strategic process.

After the interview, I decided to follow up with him to ask when leaders need to abandon or re-evaluate a strategic plan.  I have seen executives stick with a plan and others modify or abandon a plan.  Most leaders don’t want to open up the plan over and over because it shows indecisiveness, a lack of confidence or it creates confusion.  That said, there are times when a major review or rewrite is important.  So, I asked Rich:

When is revisiting the plan the right thing to do?

The ability to modify strategy at the right time can literally save or destroy a business. Here is a checklist of five moments when it is critical to evaluate your strategy.

 

1. Goals are achieved or changed.

 

Goals are what you are trying to achieve, and strategy is how you’re going to get there.

It makes sense then, if the destination changes, so too should the path to get there.  As you accomplish goals and establish new ones, changes in resource allocation are often required to keep moving forward.  In some cases, goals are modified during the course of the year to reflect changes in the market, competitive landscape, or customer profile. It’s important to reflect on the strategy as these changes occur to see if it also needs to be modified.

 

“Goals are what you are trying to achieve, and strategy is how you’re going to get there.” -Rich Horwath

 

2. Customer needs evolve.

 

The endgame of business strategy is to serve customers’ needs in a more profitable way than the competition.  But, as the makers of the Polaroid camera, hard- cover encyclopedias, and pagers will tell you, customer needs evolve.

The leaders skilled in strategic thinking are able to continually generate new insights into the emerging needs of key customers.  They can then shape their group’s current or future offerings to best meet those evolving needs.

 

“The endgame of business strategy is to serve customers’ needs in a more profitable way than the competition.” -Rich Horwath

 

3. Innovation changes the market.

 

Innovation can be described as creating new value for customers.

The new value may be technological in nature, but it can also be generated in many other ways including service, experience, marketing, process, etc.  It may be earth shattering, or it may be minor in nature.  The key is to keep a tight pulse on your market, customers, and competitors to understand when innovation, or new value, is being delivered and by whom.  Once that’s confirmed, assess your goals and strategies to determine if they need to be adjusted based on this new level of value in the market.

 

4. Competitors change the perception of value.

3 Common Mistakes of Strategic Planning

 

I’m always looking for ways to improve the strategic planning from a dreaded annual activity to a meaningful, helpful process.

Recently, I had the opportunity to read Elevate: The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking by Rich Horwath.  Rich has helped numerous companies and managers with the strategic planning process and evaluating strategic capabilities.  I had the opportunity to talk with Rich about the most common mistakes leaders make.

 

“If your strategic plan isn’t driving daily activities, then you’ve wasted time doing the plan.” -Rich Horwath

 

3 Common Mistakes of Strategic Planning

 

Rich, you’ve worked on strategy both as the CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute and before that as a Chief Strategy Officer.  What are the most common mistakes you see in strategic planning?

 

There are typically three mistakes when it comes to strategic planning.

 

“The number one cause of bankruptcy is bad strategy.” -Rich Horwath

 

Mistake #1:  Confusing strategy with other planning terms.

 

The first is the group not having a universal understanding of what strategy is and how it differs from other key planning terms such as mission, vision, goals, objectives and tactics. There’s a tremendous lack of precision when it comes to strategic planning and that starts with the fundamental building blocks.

 

“Concepts change thinking and tools change behavior.” -Rich Horwath

 

Mistake #2:  Regurgitating last year’s plan.

 

The second is that most plans are simply a regurgitation of last year’s plan.  This is because managers don’t think before they plan.  I’m a big believer that new growth comes from new thinking.  If you don’t take time and tools to generate new insights, then don’t expect your group to perform any better than the year before, or the year before that.

 

Mistake #3:  Not linking the strategic plan to daily activities.

Taking Your Team to the Top

How to Take Your Team to the Top

As a leader, how do you spot talent?

How do you take talented individuals and turn them into a winning team?

How do you create a winning culture?

Is it possible to use adversity to your advantage? 

What team is the greatest of all time?

 

I asked Ted Sundquist all of these questions and more.

Ted Sundquist played fullback at the U.S. Air Force Academy, winning the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl and the 1983 Independence Bowl.  He later served as a flight commander in Germany before returning to the Academy and coaching.  In 1993, the Denver Broncos hired Ted as a talent scout.  Ted was named General Manager of the Broncos in 2002.  Today, Ted is an analyst for the NFL network, a radio personality, a commentator and a blogger.  This year, he added author to that list with the publication of Taking Your Team to the Top.

 

Identifying Talent

Ted, you’re known for grabbing talent others passed over.  How were you able to see potential where others saw problems?

I think first and foremost you have to identify the talent pool that you’re dealing with.  Understand where the best and the brightest come from that can contribute to your industry.  In professional football, that’s dealing with the entering college football player pool, as well as players already in the NFL, and those available on the street (free agents).

 

Leading a team in any capacity is not a right but rather a privilege. -Ted Sundquist

 

Then you have to have a VERY good understanding of what traits are necessary in these individuals in order to execute the plans & procedures required to pursue your mission.  One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to football, and I’m sure that’s the case in other arenas as well.  We had prioritized our requirements prior to searching for those individuals to fill our positions of need.

You must be as detailed with the back end of your prospect list as you are with the top candidates. Look for those individuals that fulfill your priorities in the Critical Factors, those traits which run “vertical” through the organization and are analogous for every person on the team, regardless of position.  Know which factors are most important and which you can “live with.”  Then have a thorough breakdown of the Position Specifics, those skills necessary to fulfill a specific task required of the candidate.

Ensure that the positions are evaluated from various angles within the organization and not from a single viewpoint.  This eliminates personal bias and provides for a crosscheck of opinions.  Mistakes made on the front end of the selection process are difficult to correct once the player is on your team.

Greeting linebacker and team captain Al Wilson after a hard fought win on the road. Greeting linebacker and team captain Al Wilson after a hard fought win on the road.

If you take the time to do your homework, finding the pool of talent, identifying what’s most important to your team to accomplish the mission (Critical Factors [vertical traits] & Position Specifics [horizontal traits]), and then implementing an evaluation system from multiple angles & crosschecks . . . your chances of making mistakes are minimized and you’re more apt to find the best and the brightest talent to execute your plans towards goal achievement.

 

“The culture should reflect the mission.” Ted Sundquist

 

Creating A Team Mission Statement